New Carrier Ready to Take Off in North Dakota

Point2Point Airways officially begins operating out of Bismarck on Wednesday.

A "take off" event will be held at the local airport's Bismarck Air BP Hangar located just north of the General Aviation building. The event and program will start at 6:30 p.m. with a special airline christening set for 6:50 p.m.

Point2Point is made possible through a federal initiative to provide air travel to smaller airports. The city of Bismarck sponsored John Boehle's business model that made a federal grant of $1.2 million available to P2P, which is matching those funds.

Leonard Lee, who manages P2P's media relations, said only eight North Dakota airports are served by commercial flights, but P2P will fly to 74 state airports plus others in Minnesota, South Dakota, Montana and Manitoba.

The focus of P2P is the business traveler, the people who often find themselves having to travel hundreds of miles by car as part of their job to meet with clients. P2P is marketing this concept to companies, providing travel packages. With 24-hour notice, in some cases even less, a four-seat plane is made available to take a traveler just about anywhere in the region.

"Bismarck is ideal for this type of travel. All the business centers are located some 200 to 300 miles away," Lee said.

Lee said it's not unusual at many companies that employees put in 60 hours to accomplish 40-hour work weeks and that a quarter to a third of their time is spent on the road. P2P and other companies say they can change that.

Eide Bailly is among the first companies to sign up with P2P. Principal partner Chris Champ said the accounting firm has about 900 employees with offices in Minneapolis, Billings, Mont., Bismarck, Fargo, Aberdeen, S.D, Sioux Falls, S.D., Tulsa, Okla., Oklahoma City and Boise, Idaho.

P2P alleviates a lot of travel time, Champ said. Time on the road is stressful on his employees and the company has seen problems arise over burnout and retention of its personnel.

"Point2Point is real convenient and very efficient for us," Champ said. "We can get out and back, and it even allows for multiple trips in one day."

Champ has taken the flights himself and characterizes them as nice, smooth and comfortable.

With the two planes it has now, P2P has made hundreds of flights since it began limited operations in January. Now that the company has received further FAA certifications, another nine planes are being ordered and should be in the air by the end of the year.

Currently it is using Cirrus SR22s, but John Kauffman, P2P's executive vice president of marketing, said they are looking at other planes, including new Very Light Jets. By the end of 2008, plans are to have 15 to 20 new planes in service.

Nearly 98 percent of the nation's population lives near a community airport, but only 28 percent near a hub airport, Kauffman said.

Major commercial endeavors only serve large airports, and getting to the small community airports can be difficult because of conditions resulting from weather and the types of aircraft they can serve.

What sets P2P apart from other charter services is the state-of-the-art equipment found in the next generation planes it is buying. These planes incorporate the Small Aircraft Transportation System that has been developed by NASA's Langley Research Center.

Instead of having all the radar and guidance systems located at airports, these systems are incorporated into the planes themselves.

Guy Kemmerly, former deputy project manager of SATS, says the program was designed to make air travel affordable, safe, reliable and accessible to small community aircraft.

NASA also developed "Highway in the Sky" programs, which not only provide pilots with information about the route, but also pick the best, most efficient route to take.

While the five-year SATS program has come to an end, many of the technologies and programs it was researching will be carried on through other projects.

To keep P2P in the air for the long term will take a major investment, Kauffman said.

"With planes costing $500,000 to $2 million, we've got to raise a lot of money," Kauffman said. "We've got nine planes on order, with plans to have 15 to 20 by the end of next year. We want to have 100 or so planes eventually. We want to raise between $50 million and $100 million over the next 18 months."

Lee said that most of the investment will be made in planes and people. The company has little infrastructure to buy and maintain, only the planes, which they plan on having distributed throughout the region.

Currently P2P wants travelers to make reservations over the phone, but it is developing a Web site that will allow for reservations and also let travelers work together on scheduling flights.

Kauffman said the program is being developed, but is turning into a time-consuming and expensive proposition, though it should provide great dividends in the future.

Kauffman says P2P has gotten a jump on other large corporations who are just now making plans to provide similar services. He said that Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are developing personal airlines similar to P2P, but have not yet gotten off the runway.

Copyright 2005 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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